Microsoft is scheduled to unveil their next version of the Xbox later today and while that doesn’t directly affect Wii U owners, as a person interested in the gaming industry at large, it’ll be interesting to see what features Microsoft will mimic or include that the Wii U doesn’t. Nintendo has had a full six months and counting to grow their marketshare versus the onslaught of Sony and Microsoft and the company has somewhat squandered that opportunity by lack of marketing, lack of available games, and poor third party support.
The Xbox.. what?
At this point, we don’t know what it’ll be called yet, so we’re rolling with Xbox 720 until the official announcement. Once that is made, that’ll be the last you hear from the place holder name. Some speculation arose that the next Xbox would be called Xbox Infinity, but that turned out to be a redditor’s joke just to see how far he could get the news widely reported in the media. At this point, we don’t know the name, but come 10am PST, that will change.
The specifications for the Xbox 720 are widely rumored right now. Like the Wii U and the PS4, we know that Microsoft will most likely be using AMD as their CPU/GPU provider. This moves them closer to being PC-like than the Wii U, which still uses the PowerPC architecture of the previous generation. This puts Xbox 720, PS4, and PC platforms in similar development and optimization routines, while the Wii U currently remains the outlier here. This is one reason why third party developers may be hesitant to develop for the Wii U in the future, as it will require massively different optimization development while the other three main platforms have closely assimilated.
Exact specs for the next Xbox 720 are unknown right now, but we expect them to be close to what the PS4 offers. Expect 8 GB of RAM and with a rumored 8-core AMD CPU attached. The graphics chipset will be anywhere from the Radeon 7780 to 7790 family, as development of the system had to be locked in at some point last year. We shouldn’t expect anything newer than that.
The big question for many is will it include Blu-Ray? Sony did a lot lost generation to make sure its Blu-Ray format was embraced universally, with Microsoft backing the losing HD-DVD format. Games aren’t getting any smaller though, and with the capacity to hold 50GB per layer, Blu-Ray is the obvious choice. Microsoft will have to embrace it for the games, but whether it’ll play movies is an entirely different matter.
Media Center Features
Perhaps the biggest push Microsoft did last-gen was turning the Xbox into more than just a gaming console. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Instant videos and social media networks like Twitter and Facebook are all accessible through the console. Microsoft will likely continue that trend this generation, but if it’s behind a paywall like last generation with Xbox LIVE, both Nintendo and Sony already have Microsoft trumped. These consoles can access all of those services for free, without having to shell out $60 a month to Microsoft just for the privilege of using something already on the console.
Expect Microsoft to embrace TV and try to offer something similar to what the Wii U has with TVii, but also expect it to cost quite a bit for those who want it. Where as the Wii U provides this service at no extra charge, Microsoft will likely be reaching deep into your wallet to tell you what’s on your TV.
Nintendo created its own social network with the Wii U called the Miiverse, which is a brilliant way for Wii U owners to share content with each other. Currently it’s a closed system meaning you can only create posts on the Wii U itself. Nintendo should leverage the Miiverse by expanding it, making it capable of posting drawings to Facebook and Twitter and allowing people to share outside its closed garden. It’ll bring exposure to Miiverse and will offer something no other console has at this point.
Backwards Compatibility: Nintendo’s Trump Card
Currently it’s speculated that the Xbox 720 will not offer much in the way of backwards compatibility because of the massive architecture change. The same can be said of Sony’s console. If games are at all backwards compatible with the two new systems, it’s speculated that it will be software only and you’ll need to purchase them digitally.
Nintendo currently has a back catalogue of games stretching all the way back to 1985 that remain backwards compatible with the Wii U. The only problem is the roll out for these games has been painfully slow. Fans have been asking for more each week, as well as more systems to be added, including Gamecube games and some popular Wii games from last generation. This isn’t unlike what both Sony and Microsoft will be doing with their greatest hits from last generation, so there’s no reason that Nintendo shouldn’t offer the likes of Skyward Sword, Xenoblade Chronicles, and other popular Wii games for Nintendo fans.
The only problem with expanding their catalogue to this degree is the lack of space on the Wii U. Nintendo themselves have admitted that the white basic edition of the Wii U was a mistake and the 32GB of space offered on the deluxe Wii U is piddly compared even to today’s Xbox and PS3 that offer upwards of 250GB of space. Sure, external hard drives are cheap, but once you factor in the $100 purchase price for one of those, the Wii U isn’t so cheap anymore.
Overall, expect Microsoft to announce a lot of third party support for games, including exclusivity for games like Call of Duty. It doesn’t affect Wii U owners that much since the games will likely come to the console once that period is over, but Microsoft is throwing hundreds of billions of dollars at marketing, advertising, and developers to coax them into deals with the console. Nintendo is going to have to step up their game in order to compete in this arena.